Let’s set the scene. You’ve walked into a party or a family function. Conversation is abuzz and you’re catching up with people you haven’t seen in years. Naturally, you’re getting asked what you’re doing with your life. You proudly state, “I’m in law school”.
The conversation flows on for a while before someone swoops with some further questions about this law school you speak of. They ask about your studies and seem really interested in what you have to say, but soon begin to reveal their true self. You’ve seen this before. You know that their next question will be a request for legal advice.
“So I have this parking fine and, like, I’ve heard you just don’t need to pay them, is that true?!”, they exclaim. Adding further to their woes, they cry out about the injustice experienced at their now ex-favourite shop. “I’ve been trying to return this jumper I bought and they said I can’t do that – is that even allowed?”
Caught off guard, you umm and ah. You’re trying to test yourself and see if you’ve got the answer. Suddenly, like your life flashing before your eyes but instead with every case name you’ve ever read flashing through your brain, you try to create a match between their legal problem and a case you know.
Some matches begin to appear and you have just remembered some very important legislation when it dawns on you that, sadly, you are not yet a lawyer. While you are brooding over whether to recommend pursuing a claim in negligence, contractual breach or whipping out the Australian Consumer Law, you realise that you need to decline the request for advice – and that’s the tricky part of the conversation.
No matter how right you think (or know) you are, never give legal advice. Be upfront and let the person know that you aren’t qualified to give advice, but if you feel like you want to help them some more, you can help them to find some relevant legal resources online. If they want to pursue the issue further, recommend that they seek advice from a lawyer. Remember, you will have many years to answer these sorts of questions as a lawyer, so there is no need to jump into it just yet!
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